MALKY Mackay reckons James McClean will become ‘a top centre-forward’ after the Irishman’s sparkling display at Watford.
Latics went down to a 2-1 defeat at Vicarage Road, and have taken only one point from Mackay’s four matches in charge.
But unlike the previous defeat against Norwich, there were plenty of positives to be gleaned from their latest setback – not least the performance of McClean.
Mackay had raised eyebrows with his team selection, with McClean replacing Marc-Antoine Fortune up front, and Don Cowie just behind him.
After falling behind, though, Latics deservedly got back on level terms through Chris McCann and looked the side most likely to win it only to fall to Troy Deeney’s second goal nine minutes form time.
And Mackay was full of praise for the way McClean acquitted himself in an unfamiliar position.
“I thought James McClean ran himself into the ground at centre-forward, and I thought he caused their three centre-backs no end of problems on his own,” gushed the Latics boss.
“He’s got pace, he’s got power, he’s got a terrific touch and he’s someone I believe is going to turn into a top centre-forward.
“His work-rate was immense as well, and I have very high hopes for him.”
McClean laid on McCann’s goal with a pinpoint corner from which the midfielder found the roof of the net with a bullet header.
“That’s twice he’s done that now, he did it a couple of weeks ago at Sheffield Wednesday for Chris to score,” added Mackay.
“He’s got that dead-ball armoury to his best, and I was delighted with him on the whole.
“He’s played up there a couple of times now and I just see something in him and something that will only grow.”
Mackay was also impressed with Cowie’s contribution in a more advanced role than usual.
“The way Don Cowie played against one of the best playmakers in the league, in (Daniel) Tozser, was fantastic,” Mackay added.
“He never gave him time on the ball and was also able to cause some problems at the other end.
“There’s a lot of work been put in over the last few weeks, and the group has been very open, very honest.
“We applied the game-plan really well today, and I thought various players caused Watford big problems.”